These are the words that Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, spoke to 10 members of the University’s support staff, facilities workers, and custodial crew at the 36th anniversary celebration of the 1841 Awards. The awards ceremony, named after the year Fordham was founded, was held on Nov. 29 in Bepler Commons. It recognizes the day-to-day operations employees who have worked at the University for either two or four decades. This year, there were 15 award recipients. (Five of them were unable to attend the ceremony.)
They are the ones who sort mail, plow snow from sidewalks, preserve Rose Hill’s historic woodwork, and give behind-the-scenes support to the University’s students and faculty. Many of them are also the proud parents of Fordham alumni and current students.
Among this year’s recipients were immigrants from Poland, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and the island of Barbados. One awardee—Saul Morales—is a custodian who informally taught Spanish to other Fordham employees and has been known to sing while polishing the floor, unknowingly serenading nearby staff. But as a whole, said Father McShane, they are Fordham’s keystone—the pieces that keep the University together.
“Everyone relies on you. Without you, the great arch of Fordham would not be able to stand,” Father McShane told them.
Jonathan Crystal, Ph.D., interim provost, lauded one employee—Anne-Marie Sweeney, executive secretary in the theology department—for her commitment in coming to work last summer despite nursing a fractured knee.
“Anne-Marie returned to work as speedily as possible, using crutches to navigate the halls and sitting at her desk with one leg up on her guest chair,” he said. “The image was emblematic of her career at Fordham, which over her 20 years, has also become the alma mater of her beloved daughter Katie and son Jimmy.”
Peter A. Stace, senior vice president for enrollment and strategy, complimented another awardee—Lorraine Prainito, senior enrollment operations representative—for her diligence, frankness, and sense of style.
“Lorraine always comes to work in high heels, looking her best,” Stace said, gesturing toward her black stiletto boots. “Colleagues look up to her for her much-needed advice on work, as well as fashion, health, and dieting tips. We think of her as the office therapist.”
The anecdotes were tinged with both humor and humility. One awardee, a Rose Hill custodian named Cesar Merejo, was reluctant to receive thanks for his decades of service.
“He felt it was he who should be thanking the University for offering him this opportunity,” Marco A. Valera, vice president for facilities management, told the audience. “He says—and I quote—‘I always tried to pass this message to my coworkers, especially the new ones: to appreciate and understand what it means to work in a great place such as Fordham.’” A few seats away, another awardee, foreman-turned-postal clerk Carlos A. Mendoza, nodded his head.
Mendoza’s 20-year-old stepson, Genssey Paula, applauded his stepfather. He said Mendoza taught him that no matter where you’re from and what you experience, you can still succeed in life.
“I’m proud that he’s been here for 20 years, supporting the community,” Paula said.
As administrators praised them from the podium, the awardees stood and listened a few paces away. Before them were their family members and friends, who rose from their seats and snapped photos with their smartphones. Beside them was Father McShane, who shook their hands and hung gold medallions around their heads. But once in a while, Father McShane would murmur something to each person—perhaps a question or joke—and the two would laugh together quietly.
As Father McShane thanked each employee at the end of the ceremony, one award recipient—John Borrelli Jr., who works in the mail room at Lincoln Center campus—swiped tears from his cheeks. He said he was grateful that his mother Candida Borrelli, who has cancer, was able to watch him win the 1841 Award.
“I’ve met so many people over the years—staff, students. I have wonderful coworkers, a great supervisor … I’m blessed to have this job I’ve had here [for 20 years],” he said. “It’s been beautiful here at Fordham.”
The 1841 Award Recipients for 2018
John Borrelli Jr.—Lincoln Center Mail Room
Kazimierz Gorski—Facilities Operations, Lincoln Center
Emma Lostumbo—Custodial Services, Rose Hill
Anthony Matthews—Facilities Operations, Lincoln Center
Carlos A. Mendoza—Rose Hill Post Office
Cesar Merejo—Custodial Services, Rose Hill
Nanette Michel—Graduate School of Education
Saul Morales—Grounds and Transportation
Helen A. Norgard—Grounds and Transportation
Diane Pinero—School of Law
Lorraine Prainito—Enrollment Services
Daniel M. Reilly—Facilities Operations, Rose Hill
Winston Rose—Facilities Operations, Lincoln Center
Michael Cioffi—Custodial Services, Rose Hill